BOISE — When Moscow police officers responded to reports of threats Michael Mastro Jr., 26, made on YouTube to “shoot up” local schools in March, they wrote him a citation ordering him to appear in court and then they let him go.
That’s because they couldn’t do anything else.
Because of that incident, Rep. Bill Goesling, R-Moscow, introduced a bill Friday that would update Idaho’s laws to allow police to make a warrantless arrest in cases such as Mastro’s. The Idaho House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee agreed to introduce the legislation.
Under current Idaho law, police cannot make a warrantless arrest of a person who makes a threat of violence against a school.
In fact, had Mastro’s arrest come a week earlier, police wouldn’t have even been able to cite him for a misdemeanor, because he didn’t make the threat on school grounds — he made it in a livestream. The Idaho Legislature just last year amended state law to make it illegal to threaten a school, even if a person makes the threat electronically, off school grounds. That law took effect just days before Mastro made the threat.
Because there was no evidence he had weapons or plans to carry out the threats, police couldn’t arrest him, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News reported at the time.
“That caused a huge uproar,” Capt. Tyson Berrett of the Moscow Police Department recalled in a Tuesday phone interview with the Idaho Press.
The threats weren’t specific to any one school in Moscow, Berrett remembered. Nearly 400 in students in the Moscow School District didn’t attend school as a result. People were furious with the police, Berrett said. A small minority threatened to take matters into their own hands.
“There were people who were threatening they knew where this guy was and they were going to go take care of him,” Berrett said.
Officers, however, felt their hands were tied in the case.
“In hindsight we could’ve probably gone back and asked for a warrant from a judge,” Berrett said. “But to be honest with you, I don’t know that we would’ve gotten one.”
Goesling’s bill would eliminate the need to do that at all in future cases. In Idaho, there are a list of crimes a police officer can make a warrantless arrest for, even if the officer didn’t witness the crime; they simply need enough evidence to do so. The bill would add “threatening violence upon school grounds (through use of) firearms and other deadly weapons” to that list. Thus, even if the threat occurred off school grounds, and even if, as in Mastro’s case, police couldn’t determine if the person had weapons or plans to carry out those threats, they could still make a warrantless arrest “for evaluation,” according to the bill’s statement of purpose.
For Goesling that arrest would offer as much protection to the person making the threat as to the schools. He pointed out the people who threatened to find Mastro after police didn’t arrest him. This way, after the arrest, a person who threatens violence against a school would appear before a judge within days, rather than the weeks a citation would guarantee. The judge could then impose conditions upon their release as safety precautions.
And, he added, the law would be another tool police could use to help protect schools without added physical security measures at the buildings themselves.
“We’ve got to be able to support (schools) without making them prisons in and of themselves,” Goesling said.
His constituents, he said, are in favor of the law change. So is law enforcement. Berrett said the Moscow Police Department would like to see the law change.
“The community I come from was very supportive of having something done,” Goesling said.